Grades Vs. Grace

Grades vs. Grace

Matthew 5:1, Galatians 3:23-29

Dr. Jim Denison

Do you remember the story of Prometheus, the god who gave fire to mortals? For his transgression he was chained and tortured by Might, Violence, and Hephaestus, servants of Zeus. And so the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus makes Hephaestus say to Prometheus, “Such is the reward you reap of your man-loving disposition… Many a groan and many a lamentation you shall utter, but they shall not serve you. For the mind of Zeus is hard to soften with prayer.”

There have been times when I’ve wondered if Hephaestus was right. Times when God felt distant from me, days when my prayers seemed to ricochet from the ceiling unanswered, when it seemed clear to me that I must do more to merit the attention and help of the Almighty. That I must be more religious, keep more rules, do more to impress God. Many of you have been there as well. But we were wrong.

John Claypool once called the church a community of grades rather than a community of grace. This morning we’ll explore the difference, as we begin studying the Sermon on the Mount together. We’ll see this Sermon as grades, and then as grace. And we’ll choose which Sermon we want to hear this fall. And which faith we want to live.


Handle Hard Times

Handle Hard Times

Matthew 5:10-12

Dr. Jim Denison

In a recent interview, General Norman Schwartzkopf was asked if he thought we should forgive those who helped perpetrate the atrocities of September 11. His answer: “I believe that forgiving them is God’s function. Our job is simply to arrange the meeting.”

Many Americans resonate with his sentiments. Terrorism has come home to our country. New York City is planning now its memorial to those who were murdered nearly a year ago. The most recent defense budget request includes a $48 billion increase with an additional $14 billion supplement to the 2002 budget, both to fight terrorism. Americans know how persecution feels.

Christians always have. Our Lord assumes that his followers will take risks for their faith. This morning he will teach us what to do when Christianity costs us, and when it does not.

Expect persecution

Jesus’ words are literally translated, “Blessed are the ones who have been and now are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” He knew his followers would suffer for their commitment to him. And they did.


Solve Problems

Solve Problems

Matthew 5:9

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend sent me these first-grade proverbs. The teacher gave the kids the first half of the sentence, and they supplied the rest:

“Don’t bite the hand that … looks dirty.”

“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll … stink in the morning.”

“A penny saved is … not much.”

“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and … you have to blow your nose.”

“Better to be safe than … punch a 5th grader.”

Even first-graders know that peace is valuable. And they’re right.

Here are some front-page headlines from this week’s newspaper: “5 shot dead at Oak Cliff home;” “19 die, dozens hurt in Mideast;” “Shooting victims’ family says suspect was abusive;” “NY to mark Sept. 11 with readings, flame;” “14 die in Colombia as leader sworn in;” “Holy Land’s assets will remain frozen.”

The one-year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy is one month away.

This week a bomb was discovered at the Olympic Stadium in Athens where the modern Olympic movement began and is scheduled to be celebrated again in two years. A movement to advance world peace has begun. $600 million will be spent for security there, the highest total in history.


Stay Fit

Stay Fit

Matthew 5:8

Dr. Jim Denison

There are three tame ducks in our back yard,

Dabbling in mud and trying hard

To get their share, and maybe more,

Of the overflowing barnyard store.

Satisfied with the task they’re at,

Eating and sleeping and getting fat.

But whenever the free wild ducks go by

In a long line streaming down the sky,

They cock a quizzical, puzzled eye,

And flap their wings and try to fly.

I think my soul is a tame old duck,

Dabbling around in barnyard muck,

Fat and lazy with useless wings.

But sometimes when the North wind sings

And the wild ones hurdle overhead,

It remembers something lost and dead,

And cocks a wary, bewildered eye,

And makes a feeble attempt to fly.

It’s fairly content with the state it’s in,

But it isn’t the duck it might have been.

I don’t want to be a tame duck. You don’t, either. You want your life to have purpose and passion, a reason for being which transcends the hum-drum routine, the workaday world. You want to believe that your life counts for something bigger than yourself, that you are more than a dot on the screen of the universe.